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2.5 pm

John Cryer (Hornchurch): The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said that the resource allocation formula introduced by the Metropolitan police authority had benefited London boroughs that had previously suffered a loss of officers. It has indeed benefited certain outer-London boroughs, but Havering does not happen to be one of them. We have had a small increase in the number of officers—from 326 to 334—but it is nowhere near what we need.

Havering has unique characteristics. It is the second biggest borough in London and has more green belt than the other 31. Its rural nature creates specific policing problems, but it simultaneously has urban characteristics such as the nightclub capacity—between 10,000 and 12,000—of Romford, which is the biggest in the south-east of England outside the west end of London. Romford is not in my constituency, but it is in my borough, and the problems that it presents can be easily imagined.

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On a recent Friday evening, I went out until between 3 am and 4 am with police officers who tour the borough, taking in Hornchurch, Rainham and Romford itself. It was a quiet night according to the officers, who did a good job. It was a cold and damp night, and as many officers say, the weather can be a good copper. Even so, there were a lot of arrests, and at one point there were almost not enough officers available to respond if an incident had occurred outside a nearby nightclub.

Like many hon. Members, I have worked closely with community officers over the past four or five years. Those officers, particularly the sector sergeant, say that they simply do not have the numbers to deal with a rising tide of yobbishness and antisocial behaviour. I have been Member of Parliament for Hornchurch for only five years, but even in that time the tide has risen, and the average age of the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour is getting younger.

It did my heart good to hear the peroration of "Bomber" Banks earlier. Such an inspiring speech should be set to the music of Elgar, and I have a lot of sympathy with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said. My constituency has to deal week in and week out with the consequences of the yobbishness that he talked about. People in my surgery, or in letters or phone calls—many of them elderly, women and living alone—are often reduced to tears by their experiences.

A couple of weeks ago an elderly woman came to my surgery in tears, desperate about the vandalism and yobbishness that she experiences every night. If that is happening now when it is cold and damp, it will just get worse in the summer. Many hon. Members have detailed the experiences that they hear about every week. Things are at least as bad in Havering, and the bottom line is that we need more coppers on the beat. There is no doubt that the number is increasing—for the first time since 1993. The Sheehy report did a lot of damage to the police, but the numbers of officers are rising again. Unfortunately, we are not seeing them in Havering.

2.9 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I have been struck by the quality of most of the speeches in this excellent debate, and I hope that the Minister will bear them in mind. Like others, I particularly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). I was waiting for him to tell us about the clack of the clogs in the Lancashire mill town and the old maids cycling home from the church and so on, but in fact he voiced a feeling that is widespread about the growing disorder in society.

Many Members have drawn on their personal experiences. Two recent constituency experiences of mine illustrate the current problem. The first involves a home watch, or neighbourhood watch, group whom I met on Saturday. Although the area concerned is a quiet residential part of Wilmslow, everyone is terrified of crime, everyone has recently had personal experience of it, and everyone says that police are not seen on the streets any more.

My other experience was similar to that of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer). Like every other Member who has gone on patrol with the local police force, when I did so I was struck by the courage of those

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who jump out of police cars without knowing what they will face, but I was also struck by how overstretched the force was. My constituency is quite rural, and contains sparsely populated towns that are quite far from each other. The police had to drive from one town to another to respond to calls. It occurred to me that, in the event of a couple of incidents in different towns taking place at the same time, the police simply would not be able to cope.

There is a gulf between a public who want more visible policing and a police force that cannot provide it because it does not have the necessary resources. Moreover, many of the Home Office incentives, targets and so on that the police are asked to observe do not encourage them to put officers on the streets.

I am very disappointed with the police package produced by the Home Secretary. I refer to both the heads of agreement and the Bill. I think that when the Home Secretary first arrived and started talking about police reform many Members in all parts of the House felt encouraged, thinking that we would actually have a Home Secretary who would have the courage to tackle some of the issues that his predecessors had had trouble tackling. Unfortunately, however, we have ended up with a pay dispute with the police service and a Bill that, in my view, has dangerous tendencies.

Last week, I received a letter from my local chief constable and the head of Cheshire police authority. I am sure that other Members have received similar letters. It says:

Any Member who receives a letter from both the chief constable and the head of the local police authority that says such things should be very concerned about the Bill with which we shall be dealing.

One of the main flaws in the package is the absence of a vision of what policing in the 21st century should be about. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned policing in New York. For the last four or five years, politicians have bandied talk of zero tolerance, but I do not think we have really examined what happens in New York. What did Mayor Giuliani and his police chief do when New York had a similar problem of rising disorder and low morale among police who had retreated from the streets into their patrol cars? First, they implemented the "broken windows" theory, which states that tackling low-level social disorder helps to create a climate in which more serious crime does not take place. Secondly, they took the police out of the patrol cars and the precincts and put them on the streets, defying conventional police thinking that that was not the best way in which to fight crime. A visible police presence proved to be an important preventive measure, as well as improving the rate of detection.

Thirdly—this was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron)—the New York police dramatically increased police numbers. I am not making a party political point; I think that both major parties should consider whether we need a step change in the number of police whom we provide and for whom we pay. Neither

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party has done that in government, which is a source of much disappointment. As long as we go on failing to give the police the resources they need, the public will continue to lack confidence in our police service.

2.14 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I thank the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) for shortening his speech to allow me to contribute to this important debate on policing. I will devote my remarks to the good news, the bad news, the root causes and the solutions, and I have about 40 seconds for each.

The good news is that Tower Hamlets has less crime than other inner-city boroughs with less deprivation. The best news is that Tower Hamlets has been allocated an extra 147 police officers. That is an increase of 25 per cent., which reflects the fact that ours was the most under-resourced borough in London. Other elements of good news include estate wardens and the reduction in reported crimes related to drugs, criminal damage and residential burglary.

The bad news is that street crime has surged throughout London and street crime in Tower Hamlets is 50 per cent. higher than the London average. In the most recent year for which we have data, the police and the council between them received approximately 30,000 calls about street disorder, noise nuisance and abandoned cars, much of it gang-related.

I wish to apologise to the residents of Pevensey house, Harvey house, Pelican wharf, Alliston house, Gascoigne place, Gun place and Roman road, among others, who have written to me in great detail about the gang behaviour that is causing them continual suffering and unacceptable harassment, which I will not go into now.

One of the biggest casualties has been police response time, owing to the fact that the police have been so overstretched. A local councillor set out a familiar story:

and he eventually went to bed. He added:

Mr. Brian Boag writes that when he reported gangs vandalising cars, he was informed that there was a five to six-hour wait for police that evening. They were dealing with serious calls. He says:

The last resident whom I shall quote, Mr. Uddin from London E14, said:

Thankfully, we are getting that police help; a 25 per cent. increase will have a huge impact. However, we must look at the root causes of crime.

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As we have heard, permanent exclusions of primary and secondary school pupils have increased. In Tower Hamlets they have increased by almost a quarter—24 per cent.—since 1998-99. That is why education services in Tower Hamlets will now be working with the community partnership to track what problem young people are doing inside and outside school. Our approach must be targeted. It is an astonishing fact that a quarter of the offences committed by young people are the work of just 3 per cent. of that group. We must nail that 3 per cent. of offenders, but we must help the other 97 per cent. of offenders, most of whom come from the poorest households.

Finally, and briefly, I come to the solutions. One solution is more police. We have them, but demographic trends in Tower Hamlets, with growing numbers in the age cohort that commits most crime, means that we will need more. We need more consistent sentencing. Inconsistent sentencing causes much distress not only to the victims but to the police. We need an effective multi-agency approach to crime reduction, more tightly linking the police, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and the probation service, the emergency services, drug action teams, health authorities and the local community and voluntary sector. We also need to improve our action and record in the battle against drugs.

Finally, I wish to welcome the new borough commander in Tower Hamlets, Mark Simmons. It is a challenge; I know that he is equal to it. Let us work together to ensure that the 25 per cent. increase in police numbers helps to ease the distress of so many residents in Tower Hamlets.

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